Disney/Pixar’s latest film Coco takes place in the fictional small village of Santa Cecilia, Mexico, during Dia de Muertos, the Mexican celebration in which families lay out photos of deceased relatives and place their favorite foods and items. During Dia de Muertos, it is believed that those who have died are able to cross the bridge from the dead and come back to the living.
As a Mexicano who holds his country and culture near and dear to his heart, I will admit that I was really worried when I heard that Pixar would be making a movie that centered on something that is so revered in Mexican culture. For so long, we’ve seen our country portrayed in such a negative light, and when there are characters who are Mexican, most of the time we are reduced to nothing more than a stereotype (looking at you, El Macho in Despicable Me 2). When the first official trailer for Coco was released, despite all the backlash I had heard and read about (especially when Disney made an attempt to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Muertos”), I was excited to see what they had come up with.
The trailer introduces us to Miguel Rivera, a young boy who aspires to be a musician, just like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz, a singer inspired by Mexican legends Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete and Vicente Fernández. Just those few minutes of the trailer had me feeling happy and emotional, so I got more and more excited as the release date got closer.
The opening shot of the movie begins with the camera panning on cempasuchil (marigold) petals, and then we see the cemetery where families are placing ofrendas on the graves. The cempasuchil is the traditional flower used to honor the dead and is thought to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings (it is commonplace to leave a trail of petals from the house to the family graves).
The best part of this movie is that Mexican culture is not made to seem exotic or strange, but rather it is normalized. The filmmakers and Pixar have created a movie that is a beautiful homage, and it is enchanting, heart warming and down right fantastic. While those who are not Mexican and are unfamiliar with Mexican culture will miss out on the little details, it won’t matter in the big picture. This movie is a wonderful achievement that will live on and be referenced as a turning point in the future when it comes to making movies that honor cultures and traditions in other countries.
I’ll admit that there were many times throughout the movie that I teared up; from hearing the ballads and music, to seeing that Miguel’s dog is the Xolo (the Mexican hairless dog and revered to be a spirit guide to the underworld) to seeing the Land of the Dead, Coco captures everything that is beautiful about Mexican culture. When I saw the movie, I saw people on screen, in a movie from Pixar, people that looked like my friends, my family members and me. I heard a genre of music that I have listened to for years on full force. I saw brown people beautifully portrayed and in a light that I was so proud of.
I was a sobbing mess at the end of the movie, not only because the emotional storyline will tear you to pieces in the best way possible, but also because this is a movie that hit me right in the corazon. From the song “Remember Me” with lyrics that will serve as a touching gut punch (especially when sung as a lullaby between Miguel’s great-great grandmother Coco and her father), to the fact that this movie is unafraid to highlight aspects of our culture in a day and age when we aren’t portrayed positively, Coco is sure to have you feeling every kind of emotion by the end.
Director Lee Unkrich has called this movie “a love letter to Mexico,” and he couldn’t be closer to the truth. Since opening on Oct. 27 in Mexico, it has gone on to become one of the highest-grossing films in Mexican history and is making waves here in the U.S. as well. The cast has actual Latino voice actors, the soundtrack is gorgeous and so is the animation. This is possibly the best movie of 2017, so much so I’m probably going to go back and see it a few more times by the end of the year.
One word of warning though: Unless you want to sit through an absolutely excruciating 21-minute long Frozen Christmas special, Slate has estimated viewers should arrive to the theater 37 minutes after it is slated to start to avoid the special.
Go see Coco. Laugh, cry and enjoy a wonderful homage to the greatest country and culture on Earth. Que viva Mexico.
Carl Fonticella is a fifth-year studying photojournalism, Spanish and Latin American Studies at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What do you think of Coco? Tell Carl by tweeting him at @fonticellaphoto.